This observation was spoken (in the course of a wine-and-oyster seminar earlier this month) by oyster farmer Lissa James, who (with her brother, Adam), runs Hama Hama Oysters. It provided a philosophical, mystical underpinning to the whole enterprise. James wrote about her experience as an oyster farmer on Crosscut last month.
March 2012 Archives
It's really a case of "you had to be there." Thirty years ago, that is. Because that's when the Washington wine industry was getting started, before there were official commissions and marketing agencies and PR firms. It was when Dick Boushey started planting grapes instead of apples and cherry trees on his land in the Yakima Valley near Grandview (merlot and cabernet sauvignon if you must know; eventually chenin blanc, but that was a mistake). That was when Seattle attorney Alec Bayless and his buddies bought some land near Pasco and planted Sagemoor Vineyards. That was when Budd Gould's pub in Bellevue, called Mad Anthony's, began evolving into a chain of seafood restaurants and started pouring Washington wine.
And now, 30 years later, 25 years after the founding of the Washington Wine Commission, 10 years after the first "Wine Restaurant Awards," it was time once again for the association representing the wine producers to recognize their front line of sales, the sommeliers and wine stewards and writers of restaurant wine lists who promote and sell local wine.
So here we have the new Restaurant of the Year: Metropolitan Grill, represented by General Manager Joshua Anderson (left) and Chief Sommelier Thomas Price. Price is one of half a dozen certified sommeliers on staff at the Met. Nelson Daquip, head wine guy at Canlis, was named Sommelier of the Year.
This post has been sitting here for a full day. Why didn't I hit "publish"? A mystery.
The Wall Street Journal reports today on an upcoming, two-year-long shutdown of the Ritz Hotel in Paris for remodeling. Frankly, the old joint looked pretty good to me, last time I was inside, but then it wouldn't be a five-star palace if it waited for the fixtures and furniture to look shabby. Jamais de la vie! Not on your life!
So, okay, it's going to close. The Hemingway Bar, too, where a gent named Colin Field has been shaking things up for the past two decades. WSJ calls his signature creation, the Serendipity, "France in a Glass." Which rings a bell. My luxury travel company, which often booked private salons at the Ritz, was called, ahem, France In Your Glass.
Saturday, March 24th, 2:40 PM: with five minutes before scheduled departure, Air France station chief Olivier Bauer walks the last passenger manifest down the S-1 jetway to the Airbus A340.
As is happens, the Commandant de Bord for the last Air France flight from SEA to CDG yesterday, Héry Adriant, was the same pilot who flew the first nonstop Air France flight, five years ago.
The route doesn't go away; it becomes Delta 8401. But it's no longer operated by Air France. Bauer and his ground crew will be reassigned.
It's a 300,000-square-foot complex of restaurants, high-end boutiques like Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and the only Neiman Marcus in the Pacific Northwest. The developer, Schnitzer West, sent a team of architects to a dozen city center shopping plazas in Europe for inspiration in the design of an "upscale urban mall" concept. It's glitzy shopping without any rough edges, and (unless you're used to shopping in southern California or Arizona) it feels a bit artificial, a bit like Las Vegas.
The Shops at the Bravern opened in September, 2009, just off Interstate 405 in Bellevue, probably not the most opportune moment for a luxury retail development. The four residential towers were quickly converted from condos to rentals; Microsoft immediately filled of two them. But with Neiman as the anchor, the Jimmy Choos and Ferragamos lined up for space. Not all would be successful. Most notable failure was Terrance Brennan, who arrived from New York with his Artisanal Brasserie concept as well, built a handsome space on the mezzanine level for 300 diners and drinkers, and collapsed within nine months.
Occupancy rates were acceptable, around 85 percent, though that left a dozen or so storefronts empty. Still, Schnitzer West decided to sell off the retail development, and went looking for an investor with a national profile and experience managing a Neiman connection. That ruled out local, Carhartt-Pendleton-Eddie Bauer types.
Understandable. When I toured the Bravern three years ago, then under construction, I was probably guilty of fashion provincialism myself: images of Cadillacs with steer-horn hood ornaments, women with beehive hair, men with giant belt buckles. But Dallas, after all, is home to the nation's most prestigious department store with literally hundreds of elegant designers from Armani and Balenciaga to Versace and Zasha.
Two quick asides: high fashion, regardless of its cost, never seems to go out of fashion. Also: Seattle's where Nordstrom started, and Nordstrom has plenty of designer labels, too, but lacks the ooh-la-la factor of Neiman's.
The gent who brought Neimans to Seattle is its senior VP for properties and store development, Wayne Hussey, who toured the unfinished space in a well-cut dark blue suit by Zegna, wide-stripe light blue shirt, elegant rep tie (more blue), old-fashioned analog watch. No doubt he reports to an even more senior exec in Dallas, who reports to a chief exec and a board of directors. It was comforting to know that he prefers Jaeger LeCoultre to Rolex.
The assumption was that wealthy eastside shoppers would flock to the Bravern, drawn by the elegant fashions, the easy access and valet parking, and the fact that it was clearly more upmarket than busy, bland Bellevue Square, all of three blocks to the west. The recession put a damper on those projections, to be sure, but Schnitzer says the Bravern's chain stores are doing very well indeed compared to other markets.
The buyer is a private equity outfit in New York called Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. that manages showcase properties in New York, Boston, Chicago and Washignton, DC. The sales price was $79 million, which works out to about $250 a square foot. That's a premium number, but then rents in the Bravern are in the neighborhood of $50 a foot, so the price seems fair. Schnitzer VP Tom Woolworth called it "right in line" with expectations. And Schnitzer will continue its role as day-to-day manager of the properties.
Sadly, the sale of the Shops at the Bravern hit the news the same day that Seattle's iconic, Smith Tower was sold at a bankruptcy auction. The 38-story, virtually empty "skyscraper" went for $37 million.
Evolution Fresh is now following me on Twitter. Who's that, you ask? Short answer: a new juice bar concept from Starbucks. CEO Howard Schultz told me at the opening of the first store in Bellevue Square Monday that he'll have more to say about Evolution Fresh at the company's annual meeting today.
Meanwhile, here's what they say about themselves on their Twitter page: "We have the opportunity to change people's lives and to change trajectory of nutrition for the future generations." Muddled grammar aside, it sounds awfully self-important, wouldn't you say?
Wasn't it Schultz himself who reminded us, in the title of his first book, about the virtues of humility, that you build a company "one cup at a time"? That book, by the way, was a rewriting-of-history memoir published in 1997, after Howard had returned, triumphant, from his shortlived exile from Seattle's best-loved coffee brand and had wrangled Starbucks from a local chain to a worldwide player. (In the book he describes an "epiphany" on his first trip to Milan and Torino when he sees passionate Italians duck into tiny coffee bars for their morning thimbleful of espresso; Gordon Bowker used to tell that very story ten years before Schultz joined the company he and his two roommates had founded.)
In his second book, titled "Onward: How Starbucks Fought for its Life Without Losing Its Soul," Schultz cites the impressive statistics: 16,000 stores, $10 billion in revenues, 200,000 employees, and, most impressive of all, 60 million customer visits a month. By virtually every measure, the Starbucks mermaid is a huge success, the world's most frequented brand, so why does she continue to behave like a petulant teenager, constantly trying on new outfits, desperate for approval, afraid she is unloved?
Down at the SoDo headquarters, the suits are never satisfied. It's their job to be hungry, to look for new opportunities, new markets. Most recently, Starbucks introduced a blonde roast, finally acknowledging that not everyone enjoys the strong, bitter flavor of a Full City Roast. They're finally opening shops in India. At the company's annual meeting, four years ago, the emphasis was on healthier snacks in the stores, and on the acquisition of a premium coffee machine called the Clover. The company shut down for a full day to "retrain" team members in the finer points of coffee-making and customer service. Few people remember that the Vivanno, introduced in 2008, was a banana smoothie with protein powder. More recently, there was a big dustup about single-serve coffee machines made by Keurig.
And, what with Starbucks canned "refresher" drinks making their way into grocery stores, the company was clearly aware of something called the cold-crafted juice category. It's worth some $3.5 billion and growing. Even a small piece of that was enough for a San Bernardino, Calif., company called Evolution Fresh, but Starbucks sniffed around the company and smelled a new conquest. It bought Evolution Fresh for $30 million last November. You get the feeling that Starbucks was just waiting to pounce: they banged out the first store, complete with graphics, equipment, new products, staff training in under four months. (TV's "Restaurant Impossible" pretends to do this in three days; don't believe it.)
There are three main sections to the new, 1,100-square-foot Evolution Fresh store, carved out of the Starbucks coffee shop at Bellevue Square. First is a bar that dispenses eight taps of juice: carrot. beet, pineapple, cucumber, blueberry, coconut with pineapple, and an herbal tea. The juices are cold-pressed under high presssure at the original Evolution Fresh plant in San Bernadino, California. A staff of "juice partners" function as baristas to blend drinks for customers, mixing greens, blueberries, beet, apple and ginger, for example to create a beverage called Garden Gathering. The juices run $7.99 for 16 ounces, $4.99 for 8 ounces. The juice partners will also blend 16-ounce smoothies (carrot, mango, etc.) for $6.99. There's no doubt that High Pressure Processing results in a better, fresher, healthier product. No need for added sugars, either. Customers can also specify their own add-ins, including a shot of "Wheatgrass+" for $1.95, the "+" being a touch of lemon juice that makes the lawn clippings quite palatable.
The second section is a traditional grab-n-go: sandwiches on organic wheat bread ($7) and wraps in collard greens ($7.50), along with bottled juices ($3.95 to $5.95).
The most perplexing part of the enterprise is the salad bar, which offers breakfast of oatmeal, yogurt, muesli, granola, and "hot scrambles" with wild rice or quinoa. There's no grill, so the egg dishes are made ahead, off-site somewhere, and reheated with a steam wand. The bar continues into lunch and dinner, with three signature bowls ($8.75) of healthy fare (lentils, wild rice and kale; quinoa, kale and squash; buckwheat noodles with spinach and roasted peppers). You can add chicken of beef toppings for $2.50, and "extra sauce" for another $1.50. And if you're feeling chilly, they'll top off your bowl with a ladle of vegetarian vegetable stock ($1.75) which, of course, must be warmed with the steam wand.
Calories, fat grams, protein, fiber and sodium content are given for every item on the menu, albeit in teensy type. There's an abundance of W symbols for items that contain no wheat, and a pelthora of V symbols for vegan items.
Starbucks insists this isn't about pandering to a faddish crowd of self-diagnosed gluten-intolerant young moms. "It's a trend," Arthur Rudinstein told me. He's the Starbucks President for Global Store Development who put this whole concept together in under four months. "Wheat grass? I swear by it. All those anti-oxidants! It's alive with freshness! Let me get you a shot!" He returned with a plastic cup of green stuff. I gulped it down.
It was amazingly delicious.
"So how's the food?" Schultz asks me. "How's it taste?" And what can I say? That I have a cold, that everything tastes a little dull? No, the wheat grass shot impressed me. The beet juice, too. But the signature bowls, with their lentils, wild rice, quinoa, and buckwheat, don't send me into paroxyms of delight. Nor do the sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and pepitas, You can order extra sauce (garlic, tahini, harissa, and something called tamari five-spice), but I'd just as soon add a squirt of two of that organic sriracha on the tables. There's a snack-like bite called the Mel Bar, concocted by Melody Beal, one of the company's food developers. Almond butter, millet, nuts, seeds, cranberries topped with flakes of coconut. One bite reminds me that granola bars (to me, to me) all taste like dirt.
Cynicism aside, Starbucks has been a key element in a cultural shift in American cities. In the space of a generation, coffee shops have become what bars, taverns, diners and private clubs once provided: a third place, between home and work, neutral territory where people can gather. Do the SoDo Suits know something we don't? Is coffee itself no longer the catnip it once was? If Evolution Fresh provides an alternative to caffeine, then Starbucks will succeed with this transformative concept. If not, well, no harm done.
When Starbucks removed its name from its logo last year, it was, Schultz said, so that future ventures wouldn't necessarily be tied to coffee. Ironically, Evolution Fresh carries no Starbucks branding or logos whatsoever. This may be playing it safe. If the concept tanks, it would be far easier to sell off or shut down without the Starbucks baggage. What's more significant is that Starbucks is moving away from a reliance simply on coffee-based experiences (romantically ducking into an Italian caffè in Milan or Torino) and wading instead into that vast market the Italians call benessere: health and wellness. It's worth a cool $50 billion a year.
This is way more than spas and massages. At its worst, its nothing more than catering to the whims of distracted, 30-somethings with eating disorders and food allergies. At its best, however, health-and-wellness is a defense against the stress of modern life. If Evolution Fresh can get us there, can "change the trajectory of nutrition," then more power to the Mermaid.
545A Bellevue Way (Corner Bellevue Way & NE 8th)
The crew for Air Frances's first SEA to CDG flight, June 2007.
Air France 046 touched down right on schedule on a bright Monday in June, five years ago, water cannons spraying the Airbus A330 in a festive salute, the pilot waving French and American flags from his cockpit window. It was the first nonstop flight from Charles de Gaulle to SeaTac. Champagne toasts and official speeches followed, blessing this rapprochement of the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle.
A long-awaited nonstop flight from Seattle to Paris! It was about our own sense of identity. Sure, we'd been able to reach London, Amsterdam or Copenhagen overnight for decades. But Paris had always eluded us. Now we could live happily in Seattle, knowing that it was possible to have lunch today at Le Pichet and lunch tomorrow on the Champs Elysées. For many francophiles, it was life-changing.
What's more, some of those 65 million Frenchmen also got to do the same thing: visit Seattle. (Not all incoming visitors were French, either; they came from all over Europe.) Little-known fact: the average French visitor to the US is on his third or fourth trip to North America. Airlines understand that travel demand can't be one-sided, but until a decade ago, Seattle was in the backwoods of French consciousness. Now, with plenty of media exposure and the boom in hi-tech, from "Sleepless in Seattle" to Microsoft and Amazon, that's no longer the case.
The clincher, for Jean-Cyril Spinetta, then CEO of Air France, came at a dinner with French business leaders (carefully orchestrated by Port of Seattle officials) who needed faster, reliable access to their customers and subsidiaries in the Pacific Northwest. Finally convinced of the pent-up demand from the European side, Spinetta okayed that the first, 200-seat Airbus, promising to switch to a larger aircraft if the headcount could justify it. As it turned out, demand was sufficient to upgrade twice, first to a 747 with 19 extra seats, then to the current Airbus 340, with 247 seats. Nearly 50,000 passengers a year ride those Air France flights, five days a week, from SeaTac to Charles de Gaulle.
And they will continue to ride AF 041, but it won't be an Air France plane; Delta is taking over the route. On Saturday, March 24th, the last AF 041 actually operated by Air France will take off, once again with an honor guard of water cannons.
It's been a good run these past five years, prompting more than a little nostalgia.
Bill King, who was then Washington State's point man for international economic development, actually brought the first French carrier to SeaTac back in 1989. It was the freight line UTA, which delivered French-built jet engines for Boeing planes under a joint venture with General Electric. UTA was acquired by Air France soon thereafter, and, for a time, the cargo planes had Air France cargo livery.
Next came Kazue Ishiwata. As the Port of Seattle's senior manager for Air Service Development (as it's known), she spent more than 10 years negotiating with Air France planners before the SEA-CDG service finally happened in 2007. She was commended by Air France executives for her tenacious, "textbook case" presentation of the business argument in favor of the routing, and was gratified that within a couple of years the "load factor" (as it's known in the airline biz, what we might call "occupancy" or passenger count) was high enough for Air France to replace the original A-330 with the A-340. In fact, AF recorded the highest load factor among all European services at Seattle in 2010, about 85 percent, plenty keep the route going.
But it costs a bundle for an airline to keep a staff stationed at a destination, $75 million a year, for Air France in Seattle, according to one unofficial estimate, so they try to spread the expense to code-share and join-venture partners. Air France has 250 destinations worldwide and flies 75 million passengers a year with 600 planes. Delta--the world's biggest carrier--is more efficient, serving 350 markets and 165 million passengers a year with 750 planes.
Air France has a joint-venture agreement for their North American routes with its European partners (KLM and Alitalia) as well as with Delta. It matters not which airline sells more than the other, as they share the profit anyway, based on a formula called capacity ratio.
The joint-venture partners meet regularly to examine revenue-enhancing tweaks to their shared routes (permitted without the pesky intrusion of anti-trust regulations), so it makes sense for Delta to take over the operational responsibilities of the Paris flight. Delta already operates more than two dozen daily flights out of SeaTac, including destinations in Asia and Europe (its own and code-shares to London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam in addition to Paris). It's simply more efficient for Delta to do the work than for a stand-alone airline to staff for a single, five-day a week flight. No surprise, either, according to an off-the-record source inside Air France, that the company has "other plans" for the A340 aircraft it's currently using for its SEA-CDG route.
Ishiwata, the Port of Seattle analyst, acknowledges that times are tough for Air France. "They have taken down other routes, including Orlando, which would not be substituted by Delta." So we're lucky.
Frequent travelers may miss the (relatively) sophisticated meal service and French wines served on the Air France plane, but the price drop of nearly $400 offered on Delta should provide some consolation.
Says Jack Cowan, Seattle's American-born, Honorary Consul for France (and, as it happens, newly decorated with the French Legion of Honor for his unflagging service to the interests of the French nation), "The important thing is, we still have the route."
Hah, you thought it would be a picture of moi? Fat chance. No, it's an ad for a restaurant in Czech Republic called Le Cornichon. Via Nannette Eaton and her delightful blog, Wine Harlots. Czech, please!
"Check, Please!" originated a decade ago on WTTW, Chicago's public television station, the brainchild of a TV producer named David Manilow, who has since replicated the concept in San Francisco, Phoenix, Kansas City and Miami: a host and three food-loving, amateur guest reviewers visit and discuss three local restaurants. Lots of laughter, clinking of glasses, and good humor; very little in the way of snarky comments. It's all in the execution, of course: how the restaurant scenes are filmed and edited (nothing's shot "undercover"), and how the host interacts with the non-professional guests.
Seattle, with an increasingly self-aware culture of food, was a logical expansion city for the program, Manilow told me last week. KCTS was interested, but--because it's not a cheap show to produce--it required an underwriter. Enter Ron Sevart, who had fallen in love with the program when he lived in Chicago. At the time, Sevart was president of three of the country's top amusement parks, Six Flags properties in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Illinois. Before that, he'd run $600 million worth of indoor water parks. "I was in the fun business," is how he explains it.
In the summer of 2008, Sevart moved to Seattle as the CEO of the Space Needle, the city's biggest tourist attraction (two million visitors a year) and home to its highest-grossing restaurant ($14 million in 2010), the 250-seat Sky City. In addition to preparing for the Needle's 50th anniversary next month, and opening a new glass museum adjacent to its Seattle Center grounds later this spring, Sevart began nudging the Needle's owners, the Wright family, gently in the direction of the "fun business."
Sevart had been in touch with Manilow for the past three years, trying has been to bring "Check, Please!" to the Pacific Northwest, and to have the Space Needle and Sky City underwrite its costs. Although they'd never sponsored a show on KCTS, the Wright family responded favorably to the opportunity--as the city's most visible icon--to support Seattle's thriving culinary community.
Says Knute Berger, Crosscut's Mossback and the author of an upcoming history of the Space Needle, "They clearly have a history of local involvement and understand that they are both a public icon and a private, family business. I thought it was fascinating that they see a big advantage in promoting smaller restaurants, many of them family owned."
The on-camera host, Amy Pennington, certainly deserves her position. Born on Long Island, she's a longtime resident of Seattle, author of several books about food and gardening. She learned the restaurant biz as a host at Palace Kitchen, moving on to becoming Tom Douglas's personal assistant, and produced KIRO radio's weekly foodie talk show, "In the Kitchen with Tom and Thierry," Thierry being Chef in the Hat Rautureau of Rovers and Luc. She also found time to start a business (GoGo Green Garden), write a series of cookbooks (Urban Pantry, Apartment Gardening), contribute regular articles to Edible Seattle and Crosscut, and run a website, urbangardenshare.org, that matches backyard space and city gardeners.
Pennington, 37, was one of several dozen applicants to host Check, Please! Northwest, and one of 16 to be called in for an audition. With an outgoing personality and a natural ability to deal cheerfully with strangers, she nailed the job. Says Pennington, "It takes my favorite things--eating good food and entertaining people--and wraps them up in an awesome show."
The restaurants in the first couple of episodes (sushi, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Mediterranean small plates, Caribbean soul food) and the guest panelists (white, black, Asian, young, old) all reflect an admirable diversity. Typical menu: a relatively mainstream restaurant, a trendy spot with a celebrity chef, and an ethnic hole-in-the-wall. One spot that will never be reviewed, according to Sevart: Sky City itself.
Across the top of the Italian boot, from Torino in the west to Trieste in the east, where the Alps meet the plain, runs one of Europe's most prosperous economic engines: Italy's high-tech, high-design, precision manufacturing industry. It's a mind-boggling network of small businesses that line the A4 motorway like an unending strip mall. Further south, the mighty Po river, then farm country punctuated by the jeweled art cities of Parma, Bologia, Ferrara and Ravenna. Then, across the Apennines, the dreamworld of Tuscany and Umbria.
But it's the high-tech manufacturing corridor that's in the news today. Boeing has just announced that the horizontal tail of its 787-9 Dreamliner will be manufactured not in Seattle (where the development work has been going on) but in Italy, at a factory owned by a subsidiary of Italy's giant Finmeccanica known as AleniaAermacchi. Alenia (a species of skipper butterfly in Latin) already makes the horizontal tails for the 787-8 (the version of the Dreamliner that's currently under construction), but those parts, according to Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates, produced "many quality issues and resulted in significant delays to the program."
Still, it appears that all is forgiven. "We try to have more than one source for parts and assemblies," a Boeing spokesman said. "When it is possible, we have a bias toward additional sourcing."
Alenia does more than just piece-work, however. Their latest plane, just released, is a trainer for the Israeli air force. The company is headquartered Venegono Superiore, a town of 7,000 souls adjoining the northern Italian lake coutry about 35 miles northwest of Milan. One of its advantages: an airstrip that's longer than its main street, the via Finzi. The best restaurant in town is called La Pancia Piena (the full stomach), and specializes in unlimited portions of oversize gnocchi. Those Boeing inspectors, they'll need every foot of runway to get off the ground on their way home.
Let's start with this image, a billboard in Chicago, courtesy of the health Taliban known as Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Their admirable intention: to call attention to Chicago's outsize record of colo-rectal cancer. The PCRM blames that staple of the Midwest diet, hot dogs, and claims that a third of the American public doesn't even know what the colon is, let alone that an "unhealthy" diet of processed meats can give you colo-rectal cancer.
Cornichon had the pleasure, a few years ago, of visiting one of the Chicago's iconic hot-dog temples, Portillo's. Yellow mustard, check. Sweet pickle relish, check. Onions, check. The City of Broad Shoulders has some broad butts as well, standard issue for many citizens these days, but there wasn't a case of butt cancer in sight.
Suggestion to the PCRM: stop trying to scare people into becoming vegetarians.
By now, you know Pamela Sheldon Johns, right? She's the American author of a whole shelf of Italian cookbooks who settled in Tuscany over ten years ago after she and her husband, an artist, bought an olive grove outside Montepulciano. Johns turned the guest house into a B & B, Poggio Etrusco, and began teaching cooking classes to groups of American visitors.
Her latest book, enthusiastically reviewed on Cornichon last month, is titled Cucina Povera. Unlike books filled with fancy recipes and exotic ingredients, it celebrates (if that's the right word) the simplest preparations, the cuisine of privation.
TheTuscan philosophy is exemplified by the successive uses of its basic vegetable soup, minestra di verdure. Gently sweat a sofrito of onions, carrots and celery in a bit of olive oil. One by one, add vegetables, from hard to soft: cavolo nero (dark kale, also called locinato), potatoes, broccoli stems, chopped stems of mustard greens, zucchini, the green leaves, eventually some roughly chopped canned tomatoes and cooked cannelini. Don't add liquid until the very end. Specific vegetables aren't as important as balance: sweet (herbs like parsely and celery), aromatic (thyme, fennel) and bitter (mustard greens).
The first day you have the minestra di verdura, your baseline vegetable soup, drizzled just before serving with extra virgin olive oil. The second day, you slice up your old, dried bread and layer it with the soup, and it becomes a minestra di pane. Tuscan bread is made without salt, so it dries out quickly. If you make this dish at home, you'll need to dry out your bread in a warm oven.
The third day, you add a bit more liquid and a bit more bread and bake it in the oven. That's minestra di pane al forno. It's the very incarnation of a country dish, flavorful and belly-filling, made from nothing, feeding both body and soul for days on end.
And on the fourth day, you take the leftover baked soup out of the pot, brown it in a skillet and eat it with a knife and fork. This is the ultimate ribollita, "recooked" vegetable stew.
Johns got as far as the "bread soup" stage at a two-hour cooking class last week at Diane's Market Kitchen in downtown Seattle. "You have so much more here in the Northwest than we do in Italy," Johns told her students, referring to the abundance of the farmers markets. It would have been unimaginable to the Tuscans she wrote about in Cucina Povera, who scraped by on nothing. And yet, they would agree with what the cobbler in Montepulciano said, "We were better off when we were worse off."
Tom Limberg, General Manager of W Seattle, and his chef de cuisine, Steven Ariel.
TRACE, the W Seattle's new street-level "living room" and restaurant (formerly Earth & Ocean) opens today after a three-month, $2.5 million remodel.
It's the third TRACE (all caps) restaurant, follwing similar "re-wondering" of W hotels in Austin, Tex., and San Francisco. True to its brand as the edgy alternative to the staid Westin, W Seattle combines the elegant with the plebian, both arty and utilitarian. The dining room, bright and airy, features functional, lunchroom-style tables and chairs, but the chairs are covered with a faux-leather gold lamé. It's part of each W Hotel's identity as a "design-led lifestyle brand." The Portland firm of Skylab Architecture came up with the design: Seattle tones of gray and silver, flanked by columns that are both abstract totem poles and waterfront piers.
The chef de cuisine for the 100-seat restaurant (as well as room service and banquets) is Steven Ariel, a native of Honolulu, who has worked his way around Seattle since 2006: Canlis (executive sous-chef), Cafe Juanita (sous chef), and Luc (chef de cuisine).
"It's not traditional fine dining," says W Seattle GM Tom Limberg. "We want to see locals come in every day, not just for special occasions." The menu states TRACE's mission of creating meals from locally sourced ingredients (farmed, foraged, crafted, hunted), from appetizer staples like Dungeness crab cakes and "market greens" to Washington steelhead with trofie pasta. The bar will offer locally distilled spirits; the wine list is studded with local treasures like Sparkman Cellars Lumière (chardonnay) DeLille Cellars Doyenne (syrah).
There's a sushi bar along the back wall of the dining room (Seattle roll, $10 along with the usual suspects, salmon, amberjack, octopus, albacore). The bar menu also offers oysters, a pork chop, and short-rib sliders.
The hotel restaurant business is notoriously difficult. Out-of-town visitors who stay In smaller boutique like W, as opposed to large convention hotels like the Sheraton, want to sample trendy local dining spots; TRACE can't depend on a captive audience. The question is whether downtown office workers, who would be the most likely to appreciate Ariel's middle-of-the-road menu, will also appreciate the edgy decor.
TRACE, 1112 4th Ave., Seattle 206-264-6060. traceseattle.com
Oyster shucker Dave Leck (r) with Taylor Shellfish assistant manager Tom Stocks. Below, Leck with map of Puget Sound oyster beds
Yes, Seattle is home to the nation's reigning oyster-shucking champion. That would be Jorge Hernandez, the celebrated oyster shucker at Elliott's Oyster House. But he's not our only local hero. Consider Dave Leck, Hernandez's predecessor as champion oyster-shucker at Elliott's, who "jumped ship" (as it were) for a spot at the Taylor Shellfish oyster bar on Capitol Hill.
Elliott's is a sit-down restaurant, but Taylor follows the European market-hall model of an oyster stand where you can buy fresh oysters (and clams, mussels, crab) to take home, or hop on a stool and sample a few specimens while you're in the store. We wrote about Taylor back in October of last year, just before Leck signed on.
The guy is speedy! His record: two dozen oysters in just under two minutes. When a friend and I stopped in for a glass of sauvignon blanc and a few bivalves this week, we had our oysters before the wine could even be opened.
The big East-Coast oyster-shucking competition takes place at the International Boston Seafood Show next week, and Leck will be there.
As it happens, Taylor's rival Penn Cove Shellfish is providing the west coast oysters for the competition.
Did you see this in the weekend travel section of the New York Times? Fellow named Jim Haynes opens his apartment to complete strangers for Sunday dinner. How cool is that!
Hah! Cornichon wrote about this gent five years ago! Another expat, Patricia LaPlante Collins used to do the same, though she's now moved the gathering to a café on the Place de la Bastille. Here are their stories.
On the phone, Jim Haynes invites me to come for dinner on Sunday, something he's been saying to visitors for decades. By now, well over 100,000 people--most of them total strangers--have accepted his invitation. mostly, but not exclusively, American visitors. [Another 25,000 have been added over the past five years.]
In a not-particularly-fashionable neighborhood in the southeast quadrant of Paris, a high metal gate swings open. You walk into a courtyard and enter a high-ceilinged artist's studio. Jim is on a stool next to the stove, welcoming new arrivals (or on the phone, talking to strays who got lost). By 9 PM, the apartment is crowded with perhaps 75 or 80 guests.
The three-course menu is unpretentious and tasty: salad, boeuf bourguignon over pasta, ice cream with poached pears. On the landing, you help yourself to decent, bag-in-box wine. And you meet people, you converse. Jim makes sure of that. He calls out names. "Pierre, talk to Julie! Mitch from Cleveland, right? This is Suzanne. She lives in the neighborhood." He doesn't refer to his guest list, has it down pat. "Ronald, Seattle, Bruce, Seattle." Bruce ignores me; he hasn't come this far to meet neighbors.
A few of the guests are newcomers, some come regularly, others whenever they're in town. To be sure, some are just cruising, but many are couples. "It's a nice way to spend a Sunday night in Paris," says a Belgian expat.
"Ronald, you speak French. Sit over there by the bookcase with Martine and Danielle!" They live in the suburbs, tell me they've heard about Jim's soirées for years, finally decided to see for themselves.
Jim is from Louisiana, a theatrical type (as if you couldn't guess), clearly enjoys his role as stage-manager. Why does he do it, this whole permanent floating crap game of an international dinner party? A pause, a smile. "Why not?" he answers.
To reserve a dinner spot, call Jim directly at 01-43-27-17-67 in Paris, or visit his website, jim-haynes.com.
Patricia Laplante-Collins, born in Atlanta, embraces the hand life has dealt her: professional expatriate. From Sarah Lawrence to Italy to France, she's moved in unexpected directions. Eight years ago she started Paris Soirées, opening her apartment to foreign visitors and introducing them to local culture at twice-weekly dinners and cocktail parties.
We met for lunch (since it was a weekday) at a delightful, funky bistro on the Ile St. Louis, around the corner from Patricia's old apartment. Patricia arrives accompanied by her black lab, Eve, who enjoys the status of Honorary House Dog wherever she goes.
If she'd stayed in Atlanta, Patricia would probably have ended up with a perfectly decent middle-class career, a family and a house with a picket fence in a leafy-green neighborhood. Instead, she's in Paris, with a devoted following of artists and intellectuals, not to mention an amazing dog, at the very summit of western civilization.
To get on the list for one of Patricia's soirées, call her at 01 43 26 12 88 in Paris or send an email to ParisSoirees@gmail.com.
French fur traders settled in eastern Washington 150 years ago, in the region we now call the Palouse. Was it named for the grassland, waving in the breeze like a vast lawn? (In French, your lawn is la pelouse.) Or for a native tribe, called Palus? (Another tribe, the Walla Walla, lived along the river, and gave their name to the settlement itself.) The Palouse is unique, with silt dunes from the Missoula floods covered in wind-blown loess. It's prime agricultural land, whose rich, black soil is planted with perennial grasses (wheat), root vegetables (sweet onions) and, increasingly, vitis vinifera (wine grapes). Over 1,600 acres of grapes at last count, growing next to fruit orchards and wheat fields, and close to 90 wineries.
Gary Figgins, as much as anyone, is the father and godfather, craftsman, role model and mentor of Walla Walla's wine community. It started with a windowsill crop of concord grapes at the apartment he shared with his bride, Nancy shortly after they married (the wine was "cloudy and undrinkable") and grew from there into an obsession. (Leonetti is his mother's maiden name. "Figgins didn't sound very romantic," he opined 20 years ago.)
After Figgins came Rick and Darcy Small's Woodward Canyon Winery, then Baker and Jean Ferguson's L'Ecole No. 41. Fifteen years ago, there were still only six or seven bonded wineries, and not much acreage. Then the vines planted by Jim McClennan (Seven Hills) and Norm McKibben (Pepper Bridge) started coming online. Walla Walla Community College launched a program in viticulture and enology. The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance was formed. And in the space of a generation, Walla Walla went from an awkward joke ("the town they named twice") to official recognition as an American Viticultural Area and critical acclaim as one of the best growing regions in the country, especially for cabernet sauvignon. When they drew the AVA boundaries in 1984, the mapmakers included the Oregon side of the valley. At the time, it was the first bi-state AVA, but its ecumenical character probably hampered its marketing.
On the Washington side, Burgundian distinctions are evident: the wine can smell like violets one one side of the road, like kid gloves on the other. For example, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, planted on ice-age deposits, has spicy, forward fruit and aggressive tannins. Seven Hills Vineyard, planted on rich, wind-blown aloessial soil, produces elegant, balanced wines with black fruit and tobacco overtones.
Over two dozen wineries occupy space at Walla Walla's airport, a regional facility that housed 10,000 military personnel during World War II. The Port of Walla Walla converted the airfield's military buildings (barracks, mess halls, fire stations) into space for start-up businesses. Another 20 wineries have tasting rooms, if not full production facilities, in downtown Walla Walla. Wine festivals have become the community's biggest tourist attraction.
The face of the Palouse has changed. Gary Figgins has passed the torch to his son. Rick Small has hired help. The Ferguson's son-in-law runs things at the old Lowden Schoolhouse. Grain silos still stand as silent sentinels on the land, but the riches of the Walla Walla are increasingly found in the cellars of its wineries.
Originally appeared in EdibleSeattle